Data Privacy and Compliance Guide for Data Engineers: GDPR, CCPA, and Emerging Regulations

Aditi Prakash
July 12, 2023
15 min read

As a data engineer, it is crucial to understand the concept of data privacy and its significance in today’s data-driven world.

Data privacy laws ensure that personal information and sensitive data are handled responsibly. They are also crucial for preventing data breaches and the misuse of data. Data engineering is integral in designing, developing, and maintaining data systems and processes.

Data engineers directly impact how data is collected, stored, processed, and transmitted within an organization. So, it is vital for them to understand and comply with data privacy laws.

In this article, we will explain the main concepts of data privacy, discuss the two most popular regulations - GDPR and CCPA, and outline how data engineering can help maintain compliance and security.

Understanding Data Privacy

Data privacy refers to the protection and control of personal data, which includes any information that can be used to identify an individual.

With the rapid growth of digital technologies and the increasing amount of personal information being collected and shared, data privacy has become a current critical issue.

Data privacy involves several key concepts:

  • Personal data: Personal data is any information related to an identified or identifiable individual. Personally identifiable information includes obvious identifiers such as names, addresses, and social security numbers and less obvious identifiers like IP addresses and online behavior.
  • Data protection: This refers to the measures and safeguards implemented to ensure the security and integrity of personal data. It includes technical measures such as encryption, access controls, firewalls, and organizational policies and procedures for data handling and storage.
  • Data collection and consent: Data privacy emphasizes the importance of obtaining informed consent from individuals before collecting their data. Organizations must clearly communicate the purpose of data collection, how it will be used, and list third parties with whom they will share the data. Consent should be freely given, specific, and revocable.
  • Data use and purpose limitation: Personal data should only be collected and used for specific, legitimate purposes disclosed to the individual at the time of collection. Organizations should not use the data for other purposes without obtaining additional consent.
  • Data minimization: This is the principle of collecting and retaining only the minimum amount of personal data necessary to achieve the stated purpose.
  • Data security and breach notification: Organizations must implement security processes to prevent the unauthorized access, disclosure, alteration, or destruction of personal data. In the event of a breach, organizations must promptly notify affected individuals and relevant authorities.
  • Individual rights: Data privacy regulations typically grant individuals rights that dictate how their data is collected and used. They can also have the right to erasure (or “right to be forgotten”) and to object to certain types of data processing.
  • Compliance and regulation: Organizations that collect and process personal data must comply with the necessary laws and regulations.

By respecting data privacy principles, organizations can establish responsible data practices that safeguard information, prevent data breaches, and comply with regulations.

It is also essential for individuals to learn about data privacy so they can make informed decisions about how their personal information is collected, stored, used, and shared.

Understanding data privacy matters is vital in preventing identity theft, fraud, and other malicious activities. Protecting personal information contributes to personal safety, prevents financial losses, and helps individuals control their identities.

Challenges faced by organizations regarding data privacy

Ensuring data security is easier said than done for most businesses. They must tackle many challenges to successfully protect their information. This includes:

  • Implementing proper data security measures: Installing the necessary data security measures to protect data involves encryption, access controls, firewalls, and regularly updating security systems to address emerging threats. This can be a complex and challenging process involving multiple teams.
  • Complying with regulations: Understanding and implementing systems that comply with the rules and nuances of varying data privacy regulations is a major challenge, especially for organizations operating in multiple jurisdictions.
  • Third-Party data sharing: Many organizations rely on third-party vendors, IT companies and service providers for their business processes. Ensuring that third parties have proper protection measures and effectively managing data-sharing agreements is tedious.
  • Employee awareness and training: Organizations often struggle to ensure employees know data privacy policies and practices. Providing comprehensive training about data privacy is essential to mitigate risks.
  • Dealing with emerging technologies: New technologies, like artificial intelligence and machine learning, raise concerns about consent, transparency, and the potential for algorithmic bias.
  • Balancing data utility and privacy: Organizations must balance utilizing data for business purposes and respecting individuals’ privacy rights. Extracting vital data insights while maintaining privacy can be difficult.

Addressing these challenges requires organizations to develop and implement a comprehensive data privacy strategy, stay updated with evolving data privacy regulations and industry best practices, and adapt to changing requirements.

A Closer Look at the GDPR

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a data protection and privacy law that came into effect on May 25, 2018, in the European Union (EU) and European Economic Area (EEA). 

It aims to harmonize protection regulations across the EU member states and enhance the protection of individuals’ personal data.

The key purpose of this law is to give individuals greater control over their data and establish a consistent framework for protection practices. It imposes obligations on organizations that collect, process, and store personal data. It also grants individuals specific rights regarding their data.

The GDPR is one of the most impactful and comprehensive data protection laws globally, influencing the development of many regulations around the world. It emphasizes accountability, transparency, and individual’s rights.

Here is an overview of some key provisions and principles of the General Data Protection Regulation:

  • Territorial scope: The GDPR applies to organizations located within the EU/EEA and organizations outside the EU/EEA that offer goods or services to EU/EEA residents or monitor their behavior (regardless of where the processing occurs).
  • Privacy by design and default: Organizations must implement protection measures from the outset when designing systems, products, or services. They must also ensure that privacy is the default setting.
  • Lawful basis for data processing: Organizations must have a lawful basis for processing personal data. Lawful bases include consent, contractual necessity, compliance with legal obligations, protection of vital interests, performance of a task carried out in the public interest, and legitimate interests pursued by the data controller or a third party.
  • Consent: Consent must be given freely, specific, informed, and unambiguous. It must be obtained through an explicit affirmative action. Individuals have the right to withdraw consent at any time.
  • Data subject rights: The GDPR grants individuals several rights, including the right to access their data, rectify inaccuracies, erase data, and restrict processing. Organizations must respond to these requests within specific timeframes.
  • Data protection officer (DPO): Some organizations are required to appoint a DPO responsible for overseeing activities and ensuring they comply with the GDPR.
  • Data breach notification: Organizations must inform the supervisory authority of a data breach within 72 hours of becoming aware unless the breach is unlikely to risk individuals’ rights and freedoms. If the breach poses a high risk to individuals, they must also be notified.
  • Data transfers: The GDPR imposes restrictions on transferring personal data outside the EU/EEA to countries that do not provide an adequate level of protection. 
  • Data Protection Impact Assessments (DPIAs): Organizations must conduct DPIAs for high-risk data processing activities that could risk individuals’ rights.
  • Enforcement and penalties: Supervisory authorities can enforce the GDPR and impose fines for non-compliance.

Consequences of non-compliance with the GDPR

Non-compliance with the GDPR can have major consequences for organizations. The GDPR allows supervisory authorities to enforce compliance and impose penalties for violations.

Potential consequences of not complying with the GDPR include:

  • Administrative fines on organizations that fail to comply with its provisions. The penalties are tiered, depending on the severity of the violation. The maximum fines can be up to €20 million or 4% of the organization’s global annual turnover, whichever is higher.
  • Supervisory authorities can also issue orders and impose specific remedial measures to bring organizations into compliance with the GDPR. This may include ceasing certain data processing activities, rectifying non-compliant practices, and implementing appropriate measures.
  • Failure to comply with the GDPR can lead to severe reputational damage. Privacy violations and data breaches can erode customer trust in the organization. This results in a loss of business, customers, and opportunities.
  • Data subjects whose rights have been infringed upon may seek compensation or damages for the harm suffered. Legal proceedings can be costly and time-consuming. They can further damage the organization’s reputation.
  • Many organizations require their partners and vendors to be GDPR compliant before engaging in business relationships. Non-compliant companies may be excluded from bidding processes or lose contracts.
  • Non-compliant organizations may find it challenging to conduct international business or process personal data involving EU/EEA individuals.

Real-world examples of GDPR enforcement

There have been several real-world examples of GDPR enforcement since its implementation. Here are three of the biggest fines issued:

  • In 2021, the Luxembourg National Data Protection Commission fined Amazon’s Europe headquarters 746 million euros, based in Luxembourg. The commission found that Amazon was tracking user data without acquiring the necessary consent. 
  • The European Data Protection Board (EDPB) issued a fine of 225 million euros to WhatsApp for breaching GDPR transparency obligations.
  • Also in 2021, France’s Commission Nationale Informatique & Libertés (CNIL) fined Google’s Ireland branch 90 million euros and another 60 million euros fine for Google LLC. The CNIL found that Google and YouTube had an easy option for accepting cookies on their sites but failed to do the same for rejecting cookies.

Delving into the CCPA

The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) is a data privacy law that took effect on January 1, 2020, in California, United States. 

It applies to for-profit businesses that collect or sell personal information of California residents, meet specific revenue or data collection thresholds, and operate within the state.

The CCPA is one of the most significant data privacy laws in the United States. It aims to enhance privacy rights and consumer protection by providing residents of California with greater control over their personal information.

Here is an overview of some key provisions and principles of the California Consumer Privacy Act.

  • Consumer rights: Under the CCPA, consumers gain several rights regarding their personal information. This includes the right to know what personal information is collected, request deletion of their data, opt-out of the sale of their information, and non-discrimination for exercising their privacy rights.
  • Notice and transparency: Businesses subject to the CCPA must provide consumers with clear and understandable notices about the categories of personal information collected, the purposes of collection, and the rights available to consumers. This includes a “Do Not Sell My Personal Information” link on the business’s website.
  • Sale and sharing of personal information: Businesses must provide an opt-out mechanism and respect consumer choices. The law also imposes restrictions on sharing personal information with third parties.
  • Data breach liability: The CCPA provides consumers with a private right of action in the event of a data breach that exposes their non-encrypted or non-redacted personal information. Consumers can seek statutory damages between $100 and $750 per incident or actual damages, whichever is greater.
  • Children’s privacy: The CCPA introduces specific requirements for collecting and selling the personal information of minors under the age of 16. Parental consent is required for children under 13, and opt-in consent is required for minors between 13 and 16.
  • Enforcement and penalties: The CCPA is enforced by the California Attorney General, who can issue regulations and impose penalties for violations. The maximum penalty for intentional violations is $7,500 per violation.

Consequences of non-compliance with the CCPA

The California Attorney General enforces the CCPA. Businesses may face enforcement actions, investigations, and penalties if found in violation.

For intentional violations of the CCPA, the California Attorney General can impose civil penalties on businesses. The penalty can be up to $2,500 for each non-compliant act and $7,500 for each intentional violation.

The California Attorney General may also initiate investigations into businesses suspected of non-compliance, leading to audits, inquiries, and more potential penalties.

Real-world examples of CCPA enforcement

As a law enforcement agency, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) does not release information to the public about investigations.

The most well-known case of CCPA fines was handed to Sephora in 2022. The personal care and beauty brand was fined $1.2 million for not disclosing that they were selling customer data to third parties. They also did not provide users with an option to opt out of this.

Other illustrative examples of CCPA enforcement can be found here. Some CCPA enforcement actions may be ongoing or settled privately.

Emerging Regulations in Data Privacy

Here’s an overview of some important global data privacy laws:

  • LGPD: The Lei Geral de Proteção de Dados (LGPD) is Brazil’s data privacy law that came into effect in September 2020. It regulates the processing of personal data, grants rights to subjects, and imposes obligations on businesses.
  • Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA): The PIPA is a privacy law enacted in 2011, with subsequent amendments. It regulates the collection, use, and transfer of personal information and imposes requirements on consent, purpose limitation, and security measures.
  • PDPA: The Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) is Singapore’s primary data privacy law that has been in effect since 2014. It governs the collection, use, and disclosure of personal data by organizations in Singapore.

These are just a few examples of significant global data privacy legislation. Many other countries have recently introduced or updated their data laws to address privacy concerns and align with international standards.

The trend of increasing global data privacy regulation reflects the growing recognition that privacy is a fundamental right that needs to be protected in the digital age.

High-profile data breaches and privacy scandals have led to heightened concern and awareness among the public. In turn, there are demands for stronger privacy protections, leading to more robust data privacy laws.

Governments and international organizations are also working towards common privacy standards to facilitate cross-border data transfers and promote global data security.

Anticipation of future regulations and their potential impacts

Future regulations may place even greater emphasis on obtaining explicit and informed consent from individuals for the collection, use, and processing of their data.

The potential impacts of future regulations would include:

  • Increased compliance costs
  • The need for ongoing privacy monitoring and audits
  • Greater emphasis on data governance and security measures
  • A continued shift towards privacy-conscious business practices

Organizations that proactively embrace privacy as a fundamental principle and build a privacy-centric culture will be more prepared to adapt to future regulatory requirements and maintain consumer trust in the evolving privacy landscape.

The Role of Data Engineers in Data Privacy

Data engineering plays a crucial role in supporting data security and compliance efforts. Here's how:

  • Data governance and metadata management: Data engineers can establish robust data governance practices and metadata management solutions, so organizations can track and document the flow of personal data, ensuring transparency and accountability for compliance purposes.
  • Data minimization: Engineers support compliance by implementing data minimization and anonymization techniques to ensure privacy while maintaining data utility for analysis.
  • Data quality and accuracy: Data engineering practices such as data cleansing, data integration, and data quality control can help ensure the accuracy and reliability of personal data.
  • Consent management: Engineers can develop systems and workflows to capture and manage the consent preferences of individuals.
  • Data subject access Requests: Data engineering can handle Data Subject Access Requests (DSARs) efficiently by creating data retrieval and response mechanisms.
  • Security and encryption: Data engineering teams can implement strong security measures, like encryption of personal data and access controls to protect data. They can also collaborate with security teams to ensure protection measures align with privacy requirements.
  • Data retention and deletion: Data engineering can help organizations establish data retention policies and automated processes for data deletion. This ensures that personal data is permanently deleted at the end of its retention period or upon request from data subjects.
  • Monitoring and auditing: Engineers can install monitoring and auditing mechanisms to detect and respond to potential privacy incidents or non-compliance.

By leveraging data engineering practices and technologies, organizations can establish privacy-centric data architectures, implement necessary controls, and streamline data privacy compliance processes.

Future of Data Privacy

The future of data privacy is expected to be shaped by several critical factors in the evolving regulatory landscape. Governments are recognizing the importance of protecting personal data and are enacting or updating privacy laws to address new challenges. 

We can anticipate the introduction of new regulations, amendments to existing ones, and increased enforcement actions.

In addition, efforts toward global harmonization of data protection laws will likely continue. Organizations must navigate complex frameworks, like adequacy decisions and binding corporate rules, to facilitate global data flows.

Data subjects’ rights will likely continue to be strengthened. Regulations may introduce new rights, enhance existing ones, or clarify their scope and limitations. We may see an increased focus on the right to explanation for automated decision-making, the right to data portability, and more explicit consent requirements. 

Regulations may also introduce stricter breach notification requirements and higher standards for data security practices.

Organizations must prepare for ongoing adaptation to changing regulations, emerging technologies, and evolving consumer expectations. 

Businesses that proactively prioritize privacy, embed compliance into their processes, and adopt privacy-centric practices will be better positioned to navigate the evolving landscape.


Data privacy is a critical consideration in today’s digital landscape. Regulations such as the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) and the CCPA have set the stage for stronger privacy protections. These regulations aim to safeguard sensitive data and personally identifiable information while improving transparency.

Data engineers play a crucial role in facilitating compliance with data privacy legislation. Through data governance, minimization, and secure data handling, they can ensure that privacy considerations are integrated into the design and implementation of data systems and processes.

Organizations must recognize the importance of data privacy and take proactive measures to ensure compliance with applicable regulations. They must create a culture of compliance to protect individuals’ data, maintain trust, and contribute to a responsible and secure digital environment.

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